By Alyssa Cocchiola, editor-in-chief

SEPTEMBER 2022 — All Bio-Med Science Academy courses from grades K-12 will assess students using the same learning outcomes (LOs) for the 2022-2023 school year. Each LO defines a skill or concept that students are expected to be proficient in. This preset list of universal learning outcomes reflect the Bio-Med attributes and assess students on their skills, rather than specific content-focused knowledge.

Bio-Med has six attributes, or “pillars,” students are expected to exemplify: personal agency, engaged learning, problem solving and innovation, sense of community and leadership, effective communication, and collaboration.

Pictured above is an infographic of the Bio-Med attributes, on which every learning outcome is based. In total, there are six Bio-Med attributes. Each attribute focuses on an internal or external skill that can be applied to different careers and areas of life. This year, Bio-Med altered their attributes. In the past, innovation and problem solving were separate. This year, they were combined, and effective communication was added. Most information on the attributes can be found on the Bio-Med website. Photo by Alyssa Cocchiola, editor-in-chief.

These attributes were combined with Bio-Med’s application of standards-based grading, where each assignment is broken into different LOs. With these attributes in mind, Bio-Med’s Research and Development (R&D) Committee created a list of LOs that each class would implement.

“We wanted to form our LOs to be consistent across the school, so students would see these LOs over and over and over again, and conveniently, they saw the attributes that everyone sees on the website and newsletters. We started with that. Then, we chiseled down into the most fundamental skill… that not only falls under student attributes, but is a skill that is both used academically and outside of school,” said Elissa Fusco, Bio-Med’s Biomedical Engineering teacher and member of the R&D committee. “[We are] looking at that entire holistic view of a student. They’re more than just a student. They’re a person. That’s where that was based out of.”

Pictured above is an infographic explaining standard-based grading. With the new LOs, instead of “engine,” “battery,” “transmission,” “breaks,” and “tires,” the standards would fall under things like “resiliency,” “self-directed learning,” or “application of processes.” Photo provided by Otus Chief Product Officer and Co-founder Christopher Hull and Senior Client Success Specialist Monica Burke.

To ensure that students are exposed to each skill, they will be assessed on each LO in a minimum of two classes throughout the school year.

Fusco said, “Some of them are just trickier to use in some of our courses, but it honestly might just be, ‘take a project or two and it can sneak in somewhere.’ They’re challenging us to assess each LO at least twice, but that’s across a grade level. I don’t have to look at these and assess every single one in the class.”

In previous years, the learning outcomes varied across each class and grade level, typically focusing on the specific content of the course and state standards.

Laura Sass, the STEM Quality and Curriculum Coordinator, explained the origins of the skill-focused LO list.

“It really started before COVID. When COVID happened, things slowed down. We’ve really been trying to get back to where we were, but it really was the group looking at our attributes, thinking about it through the lens of different content areas and different grade levels, and just collaboratively as a group deciding, ‘where do we feel like the most important skills are? How do we word them?’ That was just hours of collaborating and meeting and talking through it and revising, and vetting that with different outside people and draft version after version…. It really has been a process of about four years.”

Part of this process included careful consideration of the outcomes’ wording.

“The smallest wording changes took a big conversation, because you want to make sure what you’re getting across makes sense and it is usable in all content areas, and it isn’t too specific to one class, but can be interpreted in different ways across classes,” Sass recalled.

Though each course is using the new LOs, the list of outcomes is no stranger to Bio-Med. Prior to this year, teachers were given the option to use the LOs.

Fusco said, “I did not roll [the LOs] out the year of 2020-2021. That was its test drive. Only a few teachers had that in their Otus and used it in their Otus. I didn’t start using it until last year, and last year was the only year where it was like, ‘Start using these,’ but you were able to add in LOs of your choice.”

Carrie Sinkele, the sophomore Engineering Design teacher, did not use the new LOs until this year.

“Before the attribute LOs, I used my career tech course standards. I stress standards that I know will be used on our end of course career tech exam: WebXam,” she said.

The WebXam is an end-of-year test that Bio-Med students take for Career Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as Biomedical Engineering and Engineering Design. Both Sinkele and Fusco’s classes use the WebXam. Many CTE classes use course standards — that were later found on the WebXam — as their LOs prior to this year.

Pictured above are the outcomes and competency descriptions for Biomedical Engineering, a class that the juniors take at Bio-Med. Each student is expected to master these standards by the end of the year. To use the new LOs, Fusco had to look at what skills each standard encompassed. Based on that, these competencies could be graded in terms of the skill-focused LOs. Photo by Alyssa Cocchiola, editor-in-chief.

Though Fusco and Sinkele both teach CTE classes, the transition process for the attribute LOs looked different for each course.

“[The transition was] overwhelming. There are a lot of LO’s to assess,” Sinkele began. “I chose 16 LOs to grade this year.”

Sinkele spent a couple weeks over the summer aligning the attribute LOs to the standards of her course.

Fusco addressed the “overwhelming” transition process: “It’s a lot of work, because it’s groundbreaking. If you pioneer anything, you’re going to have more groundbreaking work than usual. You can’t just keep repeating it over and over,” said Fusco.

Sass noted that this was the case for many teachers.

“Even though the learning outcomes are universal, they’re still embedded in the standards that teachers use. That hasn’t changed. A teacher would look at their standards and create their learning objectives based on those standards. That’s still the same, and right now, we’re working with aligning the learning objectives to those standards. Everything is still there. It’s not to say the teacher is just deciding what to teach. Everything is bedded in those, whether it’s national standards [or] state standards — whatever the teacher uses,” Sass explained.

She continued, “How [the LOs] are viewed are a little bit different. They’re viewed through the lense of those LOs. You have this LO and you think about, ‘which of these standards would fall in that LO?’ When a teacher assesses that, they’re still assessing what they should be in terms of curriculum, but the lens through which it is is a little bit different.”

Sinkele voiced one potential drawback to the attribute LOs, adding, “Content mastery could be difficult to discern [by] transitioning students to just [the attribute] LOs.”

Pictured above is a screenshot of a portion of the document provided to the juniors from ELA 11 teacher Jenna Bates. On the left are the state standards for ELA grades 11 and 12. On the right are the corresponding attribute LOs. The “text analysis and interpretation” was added by Bates in order to cover some of the 19 reading standards from the state. Photo by Jenna Bates.

Sinkele did note that the new LO system had a lot of potential, however. When it came to the repetition of the list, Sinkele said that a benefit of the attribute LOs is that teachers and students had an opportunity to measure their growth each year, since the LOs would not change.

“I do believe that it will show the overall student strengths that match 21st century skills,” Sinkele concluded.

For teachers like Fusco, the transition process looked a bit different.

“I got really lucky and, for one of the CTE classes, Lammlein took all of my LOs and did this mothership of where all of my standards could fall within [the new LOs].”

Though each LO needs to be assessed twice across a grade level, teachers were given the opportunity to create additional LOs for the 2022-2023 school year. It is unclear if this accommodation will be offered in the future.

“Because we’re still in that pilot, to offer some flexibility, teachers do have the option to add a couple [LOs] if they need to,” Sass explained.

Both Sinkele and Fusco did not add any additional LOs to their course.

Bio-Med students and parents had varying opinions on the change.

Grace Totaro, an eighth-grade student, was excited for the new way of assessing students.

“I like the skills, because it helps with the future…. It can help you adapt when you’re at a job and you’re not always with your friends,” she said.

Junior Cooper Lappe believed that the change had the potential to be beneficial for college applications.

Pictured above is the list of the new LOs for Integrated ELA 11. The highlighted LOs are ones that students will be assessed on. Text analysis and class discussion were two additional LOs. Text analysis fell into the engaged learner category, while class discussion was added to the sense of community LO. Photo by Alyssa Cocchiola, editor-in-chief.

Lappe commented, “It makes sense. I can see why they’d want to do this, because it’s stuff people are actually looking for. If you’re applying for a job in the medical field, do they really care if you know about the war in 1812?”

Lappe, however, was still critical of the system, citing that skills should not be the only thing students are graded on.

“What if I flunk a test? Could I potentially get zeros on other assignments and just have perfect awareness, inclusion, leadership, learning, inspiration, and apply content? That should not be right, because grades are supposed to measure understanding of skills. I could see how this would equate to 50% of your grade, maybe if they wanted to do that, but it just seems like it’s going to make up too much this year,” he expressed.

Bio-Med parent Gigi Earl shared her thoughts on the new LO system and wished that the school had switched to it earlier, before her daughter’s last year of high school.

“I think [the LOs] would be better for [students]. They’d have a better understanding of where the teacher is coming from. It’s more across the board than what the teacher’s opinion actually is. I think it’s more attainable, and I think it would give kids more self-esteem.”

Katrina Kohout, another Bio-Med parent, agreed with Earl.

“I see the value in a skills focused teaching method. I feel like the students are being prepared more to be able to succeed in the real world where you need to figure things out for yourself. I do think it would be beneficial to blend that with a more traditional hands on direct teaching/grading approach,” Kohout said. 

Though she was fond of the new system, she expressed that she did not know how grades were calculated or of the LO switch. 

Earl added, “I would like more information on it. There’s a big gap between students and parents, like the information the students get and the information the parents get. It would be nice to have something concrete.”

This parent/student “gap” was also noticed by Kohout. 

“I don’t think we were notified regarding the change in the grading system that apparently occurred this August,” she explained. “I went through the Parent newsletters that have come out over the last few months and did not see a mention of it and don’t believe there was any sort of notification to the parents, as far as I know.  I learned about the change from my children.”

Another area of concern amongst parents was understanding the grading system. 

“The grading system has always been challenging to understand, and I am not sure this change clarifies matters,” Kohout said. “While I think we get the gist of how our students are graded, I definitely don’t think we have a firm grasp on the subject. The report cards from last year were extremely thorough, if a little difficult to understand initially. Ultimately though, they were effective and showing strengths and weaknesses.”

The report cards contained a student’s total grade in the class and their grade in each LO, causing confusion for some parents. Kohout expressed that she liked that student grades on the mastery system were converted to letter grading on a high school transcript. 

Earl concluded, “They just need to make it a little bit more parent-friendly. I’m sure you guys understand a lot of what you’re saying, because you’re there every day. You’re the ones getting the grades, but when it comes home to the parents, it’s just like, ‘Okay, did they pass or fail? What kinds of scores are they getting?’ Stuff like that.”

Bio-Med senior David Knarr, did not know how the LOs would impact him.

“It’s too early in the year to know that, but I hope it helps,” he said.

Knarr continued, “I think it will be beneficial in some classes, but also not beneficial in other classes…. The downfall would be if there are people who don’t fully understand — if [teachers] see them and they’re engaged in the lesson, they’ll get a higher grade than what they actually should have gotten, because they’re fitting the new LOs instead of learning the new information. That would be the drawback. The upside would be, say, maybe you do fully understand, you can do the attributes better while also having a grasp, and that’ll benefit you. So, the benefit is also the catch. It’s a double-edged sword, I think.”

Much like the “double-edged sword” Knarr mentioned, some students believed that the wording for the LOs, while universal to each class, could have potential drawbacks.

“[The LOs] are really helpful, because I am able to reel in the kids who don’t care for science, because now I’m like, ‘yes, you still have to learn the content,’ but the focus is more on how do you grow as a professional.”

Elissa Fusco, the 11th-grade Biomedical Engineering Teacher at Bio-Med

“This allows for so much subjective bias in teachers, too,” Lappe commented. “If a teacher wanted — I’m not saying that any teachers in my grade that I know of would do this — they could just be like, ‘I didn’t feel like your global actions were really that good,’ or ‘you didn’t have enough empathy in this project.’ And that’s insanely scary, because teacher bias is real. I think a few kids would get some easy A’s for being the teacher’s pet.”

This was a concern for students, especially with the sense of community LOs, such as empathy, community development, and community advocacy.

“I feel like with politics, I know a lot of the teachers are democrats, and they’re very liberal. I’m not conservative or anything, but if you have a different opinion, I feel like you’d be graded harshly on empathy, like pro-choice or pro-life,” Owen Sprague, a junior, commented. “If a teacher supports pro-choice, but you support pro-life, you weren’t being empathetic towards those women who need to get abortions, thus being unempathetic.”

In the learning outcomes list, empathy is defined as a student’s ability to “understand and share different peer experiences.”

Fusco responded to this concern, saying, “I would agree that empathy is one of the hardest ones. You could assess objectively on the knowledge of empathy. For someone to actually express it, that’s where it would be kind of difficult.”

Fusco elaborated, “If anything, I could see it in an argumentative essay over something like a cause that you are very passionate about, and it’s like, ‘Where do you put in that empathy?’ You kind of start seeing a student’s writing as ‘Are they worried about other people or are they just worried about themselves?’ That’s even borderline subjective, but I would say that empathy is the knowledge of [empathy].”

Fusco does not grade on empathy in her BME course. However, as a member of the R&D team, she proposed that teachers should take more consideration into ensuring they grade in an objective manner.

“I think that’s something where, as instructors, we really have to watch out that we’re not making that subjective or focusing on, ‘what do we want to see?’ Because our empathy is different from your empathy — not just being an adult to a student, but also just life experience is different for everybody…. It’s definitely something [that], out of all the LOs, you need to take a bit more time and think, ‘how am I going to assess this?’ We want everything to be fast and easy and ready to go. But again, this is groundbreaking. There are definitely little mistakes here and there that need to be adjusted, but it’s a start,” Fusco said.

Other students believed that the LOs were beneficial, but should not be taught from grades K-12.

Payton Curall, a Bio-Med junior, said, “With the kindergarteners, yeah, you want to teach them empathy…. That’s really good for especially elementary school kids, but we’re old. We need to get less into the whole ‘Bio-Med’s creative, different way’ and crack down, because we’re not going to be doing this in college. It’s junior year. We barely have a senior year, because you’re barely at school. I feel like, especially in a high school, you have to just start thinking more focused. Getting graded on empathy is not going to help us get into college. Our teachers are not going to care.”

Sprague agreed with Curall’s comments. Sprague has attended Bio-Med since sixth grade, which was the first year Bio-Med expanded its education to middle school students. Since then, Sprague believes that he has been exposed to the attributes enough to be mastered in each one.

“We all know how sense of community works,” Sprague said. “We’re mature enough. When you’re young, it would be good to start those off. The younger grades, they know how to do these things well, and it splits out the more it.”

Sprague believed that focusing on the skills up until basecamp would be beneficial to students, but, as they approached high school, more focus should be placed on specific content.

He concluded, “I’ve been at least acquaintances with pretty much everyone. I have a pretty strong sense of this community, and I don’t think we need to be assessed [on it].”

Pictured above is an infographic detailing the journey each Bio-Med student follows. Photo obtained from the Bio-Med Science Academy website. 

Though this school year is just beginning, the R&D team expressed that the new list of learning outcomes has many benefits for students.

“How many kids are interested in this kind of science?” Fusco began. “Not a lot, so for me, these are really helpful, because I am able to reel in the kids who don’t care for science, because now I’m like, ‘yes, you still have to learn the content,’ but the focus is more on how do you grow as a professional.”

Sass agreed with this, adding, “It puts the focus really on the skill. The idea that the skill is learned through different content, whether it is a writing skill, presentation, research, or a different way of critical thinking or problem solving. The focus is really on the skill. I think the students will hopefully see an overlap of those skills in different classes. The writing process isn’t just for ELA. The writing process is something used in all classes. It just looks a little bit differently, but the skill in the end is still being built upon in all those different classes.”

With each class and grade using the same LOs, Sass hopes that in the future, integrated projects between classes would allow students to see a clearer connection between the courses, as the same LOs would be used.

However, the list is not set-in-stone.

“It is a pilot, so we are working throughout the year to get feedback from teachers [and] see how it goes. It definitely is a collaborative thing, where everybody is working together,” Sass concluded.

Though the implementation of the universal list of skills is just beginning, it is hoped by the R&D team that, in the future, one comprehensive list can be used to assess all students, grades K-12, in each course they take.

The Hive reached out to BMSA teachers from various subjects and administrators of the BMSA parent Facebook group. These parties did not respond to The Hive’s request.

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